Some people call it “keeping their options open” or “taking a wait-and-see attitude” or “giving it a trial run.” There’s huge benefit in this approach to many of life’s decisions.
To keep the back door open means if it doesn’t turn out the way we hope, we can leave without too much emotional friction.
So much is unknown in life
We don’t know how a new job will suit us, or how a romantic relationship will work out, or whether that new class is a good fit. Keeping the back door open to leave easily allows you to try it out for a time and decide later based on what you learn and discover from experience.
Life is so full of surprises, you’re a smart Scout to be prepared for contingencies.
Having a back door is also an outlet for stress
If you’re in an intolerable situation you simply must stay in, dreaming about the back door—running away to Bali, or opening your own cupcake shop, or never answering the phone again—creates a tolerable-ness to your reality. Real life may suck, but at least your dreams are sweet.
The down sides of back doors
Emotional absence: Dreaming about escape routes keeps you from living fully where you are. For example, if your work isn’t satisfying, and you’re not sure how will go in the long term, back doors mean you’re not really present. The risk is that you don’t discover what it would be like to be somewhere wholeheartedly. If you showed up fully, how might you connect with customers or clients differently? Your co-workers? Yourself?
Resentment: When my own personal back doors are open, I’m just waiting for the last straw. I gripe more. I vent about yet another “unbelievable” thing that happened. As I collect evidence to support my case, I’m creating a constant state of incredulous irritation.
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
~ Malachy McCourt
Exhaustion: Staying in a holding pattern for too long is emotionally taxing. It creates emotional disconnect and loneliness. Confusion. Apathy. Deep sadness. Exhaustion.
Secrecy: Perhaps the hardest part of having back doors is the weight of carrying a secret few people (or no one) knows. Secrets may feel like a safe haven, but they are always toxic to the soul. Someone might judge you for wanting to sell your house and drive around the country in a camper—or they may encourage you—but the risk of admitting it feels too great.
If you lose that escape route, then what will you do?
To decide means to choose to either exit the back door at last, or to stay where you are with your whole heart invested and whole mind present.
To decide means closing that back door behind you as you leave, or nailing it closed from the inside.
Scary, right? It’s worth it.
Closing the back door concentrates your energy to find resolution at last.
Deciding eliminates your escape route—which may challenge you before it gets easier. You will face entirely new fears, or you’ll finally address issues that were previously overlooked.
Seek resolution. If the commute has driven you crazy, for example, negotiating to work from home could resolve it. If a loved one is emotionally distant (and maybe you too), advocating for shared activities or deeper conversation might resolve it. If you’re longing for travel to be a priority in your life, decreasing unnecessary expenses and starting a savings account might resolve it.
“Sucking it up and dealing with it” is not deciding. Specific issues that have been intolerable to you cannot be ignored, and must be addressed to be truly resolved. Sucking it up hurts your soul because it implies that your needs don’t matter. And they really, really do.
It will take time and effort to reach true and satisfying resolution. But—here’s the key—with the back door closed, you have more strength, focus, and energy to stay on the path.
The rewards of closing the door
Once you’re through the initial challenge of seeking resolution, enjoy the fruit of your efforts. They may be slow to come, but look for them. You’ll see small shifts, glimmers of light, a sense of spaciousness where there was none before. Focus on them.
After ten years together, Mary and I were legally married this year. Talk about closing a back door! I didn’t expect to feel different because of the decade we have behind us, but I do. I’m committed.
As a natural outgrowth of making that choice, I feel more playful, more helpful, and more open. My participation in our relationship has deepened because I’ve chosen this one person over everyone else. What once seemed like a huge risk now brings me immense comfort.
It was a bumpy and uncertain road to getting there, to be honest. Now I look back and know it was worth the effort.
You are too.
Reflect and write
What are your back doors?
What outcome do you really want?
Are you willing to make a choice?